About Art in Photography – Color

About Color
Whether dressing yourself, evaluating a setting and model, or color adjusting an image, knowing some of the basics about color will really make the difference between okay and WOW. While this can be a very complicated discussion, there are some simple basics that just seem to work.

The basic color wheel is twelve (12) colors
Red, red-orange, Orange, orange-yellow, Yellow, yellow-green (lime), Green, blue-green (Cyan), Blue, blue-purple (violet), Purple, purple-red (magenta). Red is in the 12 o’clock position, Green is at the 6 o’clock.

A palette is all the colors you are using in your image (Comes from the days of painters holding a wood plate with all their various colored paints on it).

The best color to make another color stand out is its compliment (the color opposite on the color wheel). If featuring Orange, use blue colors around it. A variation of this is split compliments where the color on either side of the opposite color is used instead. (Opposite of Red is Green so green-yellow and cyan would be used with the red color in this palette).

Black & White pictures are actually various shades of grey. You can do the same thing with color by using four colors that are next to each other in the wheel (Red, red-orange, Orange, mustard) – this is called an Analogous Color palette.

A pure color is a hue. Add white to it (lighten it up) is Tinting. Adding grey to it is toning. Darkening it (adding black) is Shading. Apply the same rules to Tint/Tone/Shade that you apply to Hue (compliment, split-compliment, analogous). Green and Yellow colors go together okay but green and light yellow can look better and dark green (hunter green) and dark yellow (gold) can really pop (ask the Packers).

We do not see with our eyes. We have cones and rods in our eyes that send signals to a part of our brain that filters them into a single signal. That signal is then processed further by our cognitive process. Colors around a color, the content of the scene, emotional experiences all affect how we see, and more importantly, react to a color (White is traditional mourning colors in the Middle East, brides dress in black). In fact, be careful about supposed psychology attributes of colors. How a color is used, where it is used, the subject matter, tinting/toning/shading, where the person is when they see it, the type of frame (or display screen), size of the image, ambient lighting, on and on, can create very different feelings in the viewer about your color.

Is this it? Not hardly. There are palettes made up of double split compliments, triad combination, and there have been uses that completely break the model. Colors on a computer screen are additive while colors printed are subtractive. That is why when designing for computers you use the RGB model but for printing you use CMYK. In fact, you can spend many (many) days researching the various aspects of color. But I find if you adopt a few simple palettes and work the tint/tone/shades this becomes a relatively simple process.


B.T.W. – Where is brown? It is a heavily toned (lightly shaded?) yellow! A brown frame with dark green matting is one of my favorite combinations (you should now understand why)!


One Response to “About Art in Photography – Color”

  1. Excellent lesson Dana. Thank you.

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